Most GCSE equivalents axed from school league tables


Prof Alison Wolf explains her new criteria for vocational courses

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Ministers have cut the value of more than 3,100 vocational qualifications, ending their recognition in England's school league tables.

Courses such as horse care can be worth the same as four GCSEs.

The government says this has created "perverse incentives" for schools to offer exams that boost their league table position.

From 2014, only 70 "equivalents" will count in the GCSE tables and on a like-for-like basis with GCSEs.

The move could make schools less likely to continue to offer such qualifications, and the government has instructed them to wait for its final list before changing their timetables for September 2012.

Other examples of courses that may not be included in future league tables are the level 1 certificate in practical office skills; the BTec level 2 extended certificate in fish husbandry; and the level 2 certificate in nail technology services, all currently worth two GCSEs.

Some of those that will still count include a number of BTecs and OCR Nationals in performing arts, sport, health and social care, media, music and engineering.

Figures from the Department for Education show that the numbers of teenagers taking equivalent vocational courses has exploded in recent years - from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the changes would extend opportunity because only qualifications which had demonstrated rigour, and had track records of taking young people into good jobs or university, would count in the future.


  • The size of a GCSE or bigger
  • Externally assessed - at least partly
  • Include grades, rather than just pass or fail
  • Offer progression to further qualifications and careers
  • Have good take-up levels among 14- to 16-year-olds

The shake-up comes after last year's review of vocational qualifications for the government by Prof Alison Wolf, which suggested schools had been tempted to teach qualifications that attract the most points in school performance tables.

This had meant students had been steered into notching up qualifications which may not help them into work or higher education, she suggested.

Mr Gove said: "The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Prof Wolf's incisive and far-reaching review. The changes we are making will take time, but will transform the lives of young people.

"For too long the system has been devalued by attempts to pretend that all qualifications are intrinsically the same. Young people have taken courses that have led nowhere."


But many who took part in the consultation on the issue feared the new measures may lead schools to only offer qualifications that could be included in performance tables.

Others feared the move might undervalue vocational qualifications altogether and have a negative impact upon disengaged young people who are often encouraged by such courses.

In particular the engineering community reacted angrily to the downgrading of the Engineering Diploma which was developed by leading academics and industrialists to provide a robust alternative to traditional academic qualifications.

Prof Wolf said she hoped the proposed shortlist would give "good vocational qualifications exactly the same status as any other qualifications".

"People were doing lots of qualifications which were getting league points for their schools but which, when they went out into the labour market or when they went to college, they found actually nobody valued.

"So we were essentially lying to kids and that's a terrible thing to do."

She added that she did not want children of 13 making "irreversible decisions" about their futures by choosing such specific courses.

Even after the reforms, the UK was likely to remain the European country which awarded the most vocational qualifications to 14- to 16-year-olds, she said.

Former Education Secretary David Blunkett said it was "entirely wrong" if schools were deliberately seeking to skew league tables but warned the tone of reforms risked discrediting important vocational qualifications.

"If there's a problem, let's root it out. But let's encourage youngsters to mix and match," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"I got my qualifications by getting a vocational qualification in business studies and going to evening classes to get A-levels at the same time."

'Turned off'

James Whiting, deputy head of Chiswick Community School in west London, said it was unfair to accuse schools of bumping up league tables with vocational qualifications.

"I think often the motivation for schools, like ours, is to steer students onto courses in which they are going to succeed.

Start Quote

It should not be up to the government to decide which exams are of more merit than others”

End Quote Christine Blower National Union of Teachers

"What we don't want to do is to create a situation where students are set up to fail on courses that they find very hard."

He said the right, and rigorous, vocational qualifications were needed, but "we don't want to turn young people off".

As well as the 70 equivalents that will count towards the school's five good GCSE grades including English and maths, a further 55 will be valid for other league table measures.

However, the DfE will be reviewing the majority of qualifications to ensure they meet the new standards after 2014.

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, welcomed attempts to maintain rigour in the qualification system but warned against rushed changes.

"We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It should not be up to the government to decide which exams are of more merit than others. This is something which should be assessed by major stakeholders such as the teaching profession and awarding bodies.

"Vocational education has often suffered from being viewed unfavourably. These reforms are likely to exacerbate the vocational/academic divide."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, questioned the wisdom of downgrading qualifications taken by so many young people.

"Changes of this scale, in the absence of any detailed review of the courses are reckless," she said.

"They will disenfranchise thousands of young people, remove qualifications employers value, narrow the school curriculum even more and lead to disaffection among pupils."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    why does the government want all kids to be academic and go to uni when all we hear is that there are not enough uni places and no graduate jobs? Who will fix my car or cut my wife's hair? It seems that the government wants kids to fail at academia before they try anything else. They clearly have little understadnding or vision

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    Practical subjects are another way of introducing the principles of academic subjects and should be encouraged. Not everyone learns in the same way. Teaching kids how to apply academic principles, ie with hands on technician courses, both gives practical application of skills and teaches about the use of maths and science, with the paperwork completed a way of improving English language skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    11 years in British education & yet people don't know:
    - difference between your & you're
    - how to calculate compound interest & why it's important
    - French for the days of the week
    - what the Enlightenment is or when it occurred
    - capital of Canada
    - source of all elements
    - how to construct & write a simple computer program

    But announce a new iPhone and watch them stampede in herds. Damning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    The simple truth regarding the British education system was that children never stopped being smart, imaginative, fascinated, questioning and curious... it was the teachers, following failed 1960s and then dafter 1970s educational ideas, who got 'dumber' and less able to teach.

    To cover up 'their' inadequacies they then made lessons easier to teach and now 'we is all like doin good init, like'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    @466 Dancin Pagan The Mad Kiltie

    I think they serve a purpose, if to only hold teachers and schools accountable to the lowest possible denominator. I would like them to give more details, down to individual subjects, and multiple years. The way the tables are set up just now they are far too biased in the favor of teachers and schools where students can effectively be hidden and scores fudged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    Schools can still offer the lost Vocational Quals - they just won't get any league table points for them....are there any "brave" Headteachers out there who will still offer these qualifications to kids that really want to go down the Vocational route?

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    @481.Doctor Bob funny i have no grades in photography, but i manage to take lovely pics of my kids etc that fill my albums from my camera i bought in a high street shop, i couldnt however make a paracetamol tablet, or create a nucleur reactor or write a nove, or find a cure for an illnessl!! Seriously, how can you even think photography is in the same league??

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Well done. It's about time someone had the courage to start to undoe nearly 50 years of Labour damage to the school system. Schools should be teaching a higher standard of reading, writing, maths, science, ENGLISH!, history, and geography. I travelled all over the world in my job (I didn't go to Uni), and was ashamed when foreigners spoke better english than most people under 40 in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.


    So do away with league tables, make vocational qualifications worth something in their own right, something children can be proud of. Stop repeating the mantra "if you don't have academic qualifications you are worthless to society"

    There's too much political interference in education, people fiddle figures because they're under political & funding pressure.

    A political football.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    If we need kids to be good with mats first thing to do is banning calculators from schools. In maths what matter is not the answer but the process of calculation. Almost any idiot can press buttons to get the answer without a clue about the process. Up to A levels at least Maths, science and language with literature should be compulsory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Vocational courses are important - you can still be a success without excelling in the traditional subjects - but a distinction still needs to be made.

    Hore Care or Media Studies is not equivalent to Physics. Maths or Chemistry.

    It was all done to make people feel good about themselves without having to put the necessary work in to do a proper subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    If I understand correctly he's not saying end the courses, just the GCSE equivalency which schools can use to massage their stats? Why is horse care worth the same as 4 GCSEs? I think these courses are a great thing and should be valued just as highly as any other. I'm just surprised they have greater "value" in the first place. Or do the schools offering them only do so for the extra points?

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    the problems with our education system are all caused by our political system. The tories imprint their brand of education, labour come along and change it, and so on...isnt it time we developed a national cross party strategy for education and cut out the is the absolute core of our society and our future prosperity...which is why we are where we are today, sadly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Don't write off vocational courses. Of course, everyone needs to know how to read and write and add up. But, for some, that will only make sense in the context of a course that allows them to develop their passion, be that fish or horses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    Once again many people complaining on here have not bothered to look at the detail. They are not banning pupils taking any vocational qualifications, they are trying to reduce synical attempts by some schools to boots their rating by pushing kids into subjects that will not help them in the long term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    All this stuff about focusing on producing more technologists, by focusing on the hard if not for some impossible subjects, like maths, physics, and dare I say it, English, is fine, but the Chinese are way out in front with all of these. With an estimated 450 m of them learning English, including English grammar, very successfully too. They are better at English than we are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    The best news I've heard in a while, I've never seen so many useless courses designed for the benefit generation., the colleges by me seems to have moved away from courses designed for the career minded ie business and engineering and have focuses more on diplomas in sugar craft? is this country being controlled by idiots?

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    As the powers that be seem to like the league tables can't they be divided into academic subjects and vocational ones? Might be able to get an idea which school offers courses that could be suitable for your child.
    Several children at a local high school last year acheived 20 and more passes. Not exactly sure what this tells anybody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    The NVQ thing is stupid, I have done 3 A levels and all were harder than an NVQ level 3 which is apparently the same as 3 A levels, I did a level 2 nvq and that was easier than one GCSE nevermind the 4 its worth! My NVQs were done in laboratory skills as part of an apprenticeship

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    However, this move could also lower the self-esteem of less academic students and see a massive decrease in vital vocations such as engineering and electronics.
    Uh! Au contraire, you need academic ability to study the applied sciences such as engineering. The academic rigour is as demanding than the pure sciences. A proper engineer does not repair cars etc.


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